23 May 2016

Left-handed Style--How to Refer to Lefthanders

When do you you use "left-handed" and when "left handed"? That pesky hyphen!

What do style manuals say about how to punctuate "left handed"? For example, which is correct?
  1. Left-handed compliment
  2. He batted left handed
Answer: They are both correct.

As a compound adjective or adverb:

Left-handed or left-hand, used as an adjective or an adverb, is hyphenated. Examples: Left-handed batter, left-handed compliment, left-handed scissors, left-handed writing. Or, he throws left-handed (I suppose it could be "left-handedly"). Also, left-hand turn, left-hand-drive car, left-hand side of the road.

As a noun it is also hyphenated: left-handedness. "Left handed" by itself is not a noun. "Left-hander" is a noun, but it could also be written "lefthander".

Many compound nouns started out as separate words, then got hyphenated, but now are concatenated. Living-room evolved to livingroom.  E-mail is now generally email. So Barak Obama is a lefthander.

If I am holding something in my left hand, I obviously don't need a hyphen. "Left", in this case, is just an adjective describing the hand that is doing the holding. You would never say "I saw a red-sunset" or "I have twin-sons". It is only when you want to use a two-word or three-word adjective that you need to unify it with a hyphen (or hyphens).

But what about an adjective that follows its noun? E.g. Is Barak Obama left handed, or is Barak Obama left-handed? Style guides seem to say that a compound adjective after a noun doesn't need a hyphen.

As an adverb following its noun it would be hyphenated: "She writes left-handed".

Never "lefthanded"? I don't see anything wrong with "lefthanded compliment" or even "lefthanded batter". Style guides would seem to suggest "left-handed compliment", but if you can be clear without cluttering it up with a hyphen, then why not? The "fth" looks kind of awkward though. 

There are many ambiguous situations. For example, is it "left-hand turn lane" or "left-hand-turn lane"? An argument could be made either way, and you had best consult the style rules for the publication you are writing for. 

Here are links to the hyphenation guidelines of some respectable publications:
The Chicago Manual of Style is a great reference, but it is behind a paywall.

30 April 2016

M. C. Escher -- Unsettling Left-Handed Art

Dutch artist M. C. Escher was left handed.

There are videos of him at work here and here.

His famous 1948 lithograph Drawing Hands shows two left hands.

M. C. Escher. Drawing Hands, 1948
Do you think Escher's creativity, and perhaps his obsessions, were related to his left-handedness?

[Image from Wikipedia. Subject to fair use. See details here.]

16 May 2013

Angelina Jolie: An Heroic Southpaw?

Angelina Jolie has been in the news lately since announcing that she has undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy. This does not diminish her left-handedness.
Leftie Angelina Jolie
Ms. Jolie carries the BRCA1 gene, which predisposes people to high risks of breast cancer (men, too). She took the difficult decision to undergo major surgery to reduce that high risk. Fortunately she is wealthy, so this option was open to her. (More about this issue at this Harvard Medical School site.)

She remains an acclaimed actor, film director, and screenwriter. Indeed, her decision may have avoided cancer that might have shortened her career. (Her mother died at 56 of ovarian cancer, and Ms. Jolie is already 38.) She also remains a Great Leftie.

(Brad Pitt is right handed. So are Ms. Jolie's previous husbands Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton.)

Photo from http://www.autographstore.com/celebItems.cfm. Thanks.

15 May 2013

Few U.S. Governors Are Left Handed

The votes are in: Just four of the governors of U.S. states are left handed. (This is the same proportion that is female. Just four out of fifty. Eight percent.)

The four left-handed governors are:
Governor Hassan has the rare distinction of being both left handed and a woman, unique among U.S. state governors.

Three of the four left-handed governors are from the Democratic side of the political spectrum. Just 19 of the 50 governors are from the parties of the left (38%--and one is an independent). If Republicans are disproportionately right handed that might account for the low count of lefthanders among governors over all.

(Alejandro GarcĂ­a Padilla, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is right handed. Vincent C. Gray, Mayor of the District of Columbia, a Democrat, is also right handed.)

Future President?

Is one of these leaders destined to be President of the United States? On past form, left handedness seems to be common in the Oval Office. And many of our presidents have been former governors. Another problem for the Republican Party?

Mark Dayton of Minnesota: A great leftie?

Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota is a prominent left-hander. Here he is signing into law the state's same-sex marriage act:

Governor Dayton is a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, a party of the left.

How many U.S. governors are left handed? Let me know if your governor is a southpaw. I'll try to research this for a future post.

Photo from KSTP news. Thanks.

08 October 2012

Why Are So Many Top Politicians Left Handed?

Top politicians are much more likely to be left handed than the general population.
In the general population about 10% of us are left handed. So what causes left handers to rise to the top in politics?

Here are some suggestions, for which there is little or no evidence:
  • Lefthanders are just smarter, more ambitious, better networkers, harder working, more popular, or something
  • Lefthanders have experience overcoming adversity, dealing with a difficult and sometimes hostile world
  • Or maybe this is just a random happenstance, and over the long term only an average number of top politicians will be left handed.
The success of left-handed politicians may be a new phenomenon, reflecting the greater acceptance of lefthandedness in recent generations. In earlier times many people who might have been naturally left handed were forced to use their right hands due to prejudice. Ronald Reagan may be an example. This is reflected in the record of British Prime Ministers: of the 52 who have held that office there are only two left-handed Prime Ministers on record: Churchill and Cameron (source: BBC story).

Is this true in other fields? Are there a disproportionate fraction of left handers among business CEOs, flag and general officers, Nobel prize winners or other highly successful groups, where lefthanders might rise to the top? If you have information or opinions, add your comment below.

22 September 2012

Looper: Time Travel Meets Left Handedness

[Spoilers--but nothing you wouldn't learn from the trailer]

When you mix time travel, assassins, and Bruce Willis (a great leftie), you get a tangled tale of murderous switch hitting--You get Looper. I have no evidence that writer/director Rian Johnson is left handed, but he has to manage both time travel and hand preference, two potentially confusing threads, in this new film.

The plot involves both younger (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and older (played by Bruce Willis) versions of hitperson Joseph Simmons. Since Gordon-Levitt is right handed, some acting and perhaps camera tricks were involved.

Willis as leftie older Joe
Gordon-Levitt as "leftie"(?) younger Joe
In the trailer 1 (here) younger Joe sometimes appears to be left handed, sometimes right handed.

Hand preference issues can lead to continuity problems, as in the shot where Joe reaches into his lap for his pistol, which might have been shot by a second unit. The shot had to be reversed to make it appear he is reaching with his left hand. (See IMFDb.) In the rest of the shots from this diner scene in trailer 2 (here), young Joe handles his weapon right handed. (He also seems to switch from an automatic to a revolver in this clip.) We'll have to wait for the finished film to see if they have gotten all this straightened out.

[Update 2 May 2013--I guess writer/director Rian Johnson didn't try to make anything out of Joe's hand preference. In the film Bruce Willis is mostly left handed, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is mostly right handed. There is no explanation of the apparent change in handedness that happens over the intervening 30 years from Young Joe to Old Joe. And no clever plot elements depend on hand preference. Opportunity wasted? Did Mr. Johnson think we just wouldn't notice? What do you think?]

Older Joe and younger Joe images are from Internet Movie Firearms Database, extracted from trailers for the film.

Bruce Willis's hand preference is revealed in previous posts here and here.